What is the Difference Between Assisted Living and Independent Living for Retirement?

The great thing about being a retiree today is that you have more options than ever for where and how to spend your golden years. With all of the different choices, the tricky part is deciding which one is right for you or your loved one. Making the transition to senior living is a major life change, so you should have all of the facts before deciding.

Community and Care

Independent living communities (also called retirement communities) provide housing, common spaces, and special services and amenities to individuals age 55 and older. Choosing one of these communities allows you to live independently in your own unit. Depending on the community, your unit could be an apartment, condominium, townhome, or even a single family home or cottage. The primary draw is that you have a network of other retirees right outside your doorstep, along with amenities and services that make life easier as you age.

These amenities typically include things like laundry, housekeeping, home and yard maintenance, and fitness facilities. You may also get assistance with transportation, shopping, and meal preparation. The important thing to keep in mind is that these amenities can help you continue living independently, but someone who needs extra help with daily life would want to consider assisted living.

Assisted living centers provide an extra level of service by helping with everyday activities like bathing, dressing, and managing medications. An assisted living center is a good choice for seniors who need that help with daily life, but don’t need ongoing skilled nursing care. However, some assisted living centers do have special sections for individuals who need memory care due to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Day-to-Day Life

Many seniors who choose independent living are drawn to it because of the social support and conveniences their community provides. These are some of the other benefits, and how they impact your day-to-day life:

  • Senior-friendly housing design – Homes in senior living communities are designed for accessibility and safety. This allows you to live independently even if you have some limitations with mobility.
  • All-inclusive amenities – Most independent living communities provide everything you need in one all-inclusive package. This means that everything from utilities and security to services like maintenance and housekeeping are taken care of, so you don’t have to worry about paying bills or upkeep of your home.
  • Healthy living – The services and amenities at senior living communities can help you maintain good health as you age. Meal preparation and grocery shopping make it easier to get good nutrition, and fitness centers and classes help you stay active.
  • Social support – One of the biggest risks we face as we age is becoming isolated, which can be a contributing factor to depression. With neighbors nearby and community activities, you have ample opportunities to stay socially engaged with other retirees. Some communities even cater to specific populations, such as the LGBTQ+ community or retired academics.

In many ways, day-to-day life in an assisted living center is similar to what you would expect at an independent living community. Services are all-inclusive, so you don’t have to worry about bills, and you’re in a community of other retirees with activities and opportunities for social engagement. The accommodations in assisted living centers can vary. Some may have apartments, while in others, you would have either a shared or private room along with shared common areas.


Cost is a normal concern we all have when it comes to planning for retirement living. The costs of independent living vary widely depending on where you live and the range of amenities that are included. Once you consider the expenses you will be cutting, such as a mortgage payment and utilities, you may even find an independent living community to be less expensive than staying in your family home.

Just like independent living communities, the cost of assisted living varies based on your location and choices. In general, though, you can expect an assisted living center to come at a higher cost than an independent living community. This is because you’re paying for extra care with daily activities in addition to housing and basic services.

Other Considerations

Deciding on which type of senior living community is best for you ultimately comes down to whether you need the extra care that an assisted living center provides. There are a few other considerations to keep in mind, though, that can impact your choice.

  • Making a transition – You may be able to live independently now but worry about needing care later on. Some independent living communities contract with home health agencies, which can make that transition easier. This is a good question to ask when you’re choosing a community.
  • Are pets welcome? If you have pets, there are both independent living communities and assisted living centers that are pet-friendly — and some that are not. Be sure to ask about this up front before making any commitments.

With all of these factors in mind, ask yourself what feels most comfortable to you. If you struggle with daily tasks or you have a medical issue that’s becoming difficult to manage on your own, assisted living may be your answer. If you feel comfortable living on your own, you may benefit from the social support and worry-free lifestyle of an independent living community. The most important thing is to explore all of the options where you live to find the right fit for you.